Escaping the Transgender Present

Clara Barnhurst

I wouldn’t call myself proudly transgender, but I know many would describe me that way. I don’t believe I’ll ever stop being transgender, as many do: the term ‘formerly transgender’ was common enough until very recently, and actually is still in use. I’m out and comfortable with that. Most interactions I have with folks don’t really concern transgender issues, apart from my work. I’m a woman with a transgender past.

As transgender issues and supporting transgender people become a greater professional focus, I find that I’m not happy to take it home with me. In my personal life, I find I have less and less to do with the business of transitioning apart from the occasional appointment for hair removal or anxiety over the gender clinic. And I like that. I don’t want my life to be all transgender, all the time.

As my social transition tied itself up about a year ago, I noticed myself feeling different about going to groups and meetups. I still enjoyed seeing everyone, but I wasn’t as emotionally engaged with what was going on. I wasn’t aware at the time, but looking back, I was starting to withdraw. My issues were many and varied, but the transgender side of it was starting to dwindle. I welcomed the change, though I was far from finished with the community and it’s unlikely I will ever just stop working with it.

Conversations with friends who recently had their bottom surgery revealed a sense of lost purpose: they were building to that moment and now it’s happened. What now? Transitioning, as I’ve written before, is a major project that consumes a life. It’s like a degree course or building a house. It takes over. Once we reach what we think of as an end, there’s a lot of loose energy to work with. I completely relate to my post operative friends, which might seem surprising. What makes it less surprising is the understanding that our priorities are all so different. My personal dysphoria is largely social. I care about the body stuff, but my priorities lie in being treated a certain way without question. Now that I have that, I don’t really feel the need to remain in the transgender present; I’m content to allow it to move into the transgender past.


Certain clashes with the transgender folks in my area has contributed to an accelerated exit. These disagreements are ongoing and small, but enough to make me distance myself: I needed support, not debate. Affirmation, not discourse. I found it elsewhere with established friends - some transgender, some not - and through other links like work and study. I understand that much of the disagreement is an honest exchange seeking some kind of personal truth but frankly, I’m tired of transitioning. My personal life wants out.

Despite this, I’m content being known as transgender. I can’t reach a hand into the past and make the doctor assign something different; my status is beyond my control. I didn’t have any control over being female either - that just happened. I didn’t sign up for this ride, but I’m on it so I may as well make myself comfortable.

And I have. I’m a woman living comfortably with her transgender past. I don’t have a transgender present. Yes, there are certain things that need doing. Yes, there are things about myself that I’m stuck with. That makes me human. The things that need doing will happen and it won’t interrupt my life too much. I’ll change, but life is change. This whole gender transition thing is ending for me.

It’s helped that I’ve had an amazing support system, including my birth family. It’s helped that I ran into only limited resistance changing documents over. It’s helped that I had nothing to lose and could just dive in without worry for children, marriage or job commitments. I couldn't have planned that better: my life at that point was a perfect storm for transitioning, whatever the other difficulties were. So I got lucky.

Some find a home in their transgender present and never leave it. They thrive on the activism, the debate over terms and boundaries. The state of flux: they find that space comfortable. Professionally, it’s an exciting place to be and I am passionate about my work. But it consumes everything.


Speaking to another transfeminine writer the other day on this subject, she pointed out the irony of the meta: we were having a transgender exchange about not wanting to have a transgender exchange. How when you get two transgender people together, the conversation quickly becomes transgender - often without anyone meaning to. The same thing happens to women and any other group: get a bunch of Dungeons & Dragons players in a room, the conversations turn gamery. A table of women chatting, the conversation becomes female. I’m loathe to speak for groups I don’t belong to, but I expect it happens to everyone. Where there’s shared experience, there’s the risk of conversation getting dominated by that sharing.

Can we call transitioning a hobby? Probably not, that would be degrading. But I think for some it becomes one, of sorts. A state they’re happy to be in, surrounded by people in that state. A comfortable conversation they all understand, and I can see the appeal in that. There’s safety in the exchange. A reliable social outlet. A place one can be useful, valued, supported and loved.

Leaving the transgender present also increases the risk of being woodworked, which isn’t comfortable for some. I’m not comfortable with it, but I can see it happening. As a barmaid, I come into contact with a variety of people around where I live and it’s clear from their treatment of me that I’m just that woman that works at their local. My exchanges with them aren’t transgender - one local in particular made me inwardly smile when talking about gender equality at his work, “They don’t care what’s between your legs,” he kept saying. My transgenderness doesn’t enter my day to day exchange with them, even with the folks who know I am transgender - unless I make it that way.

Having the freedom to make an exchange transgender even if the people I’m talking to aren’t transgender makes the idea of moving on easier for me. It means that if I want to, I can still talk about transgender issues and my transgender past without needing to live in the transgender present. That actually, my transgender status doesn’t own me; it needn’t be a dominant part of my life to still be a part of me.

So I am transgender and I am out. But I’m not proud. For me, being proud of being transgender is the same as being proud of having blue eyes: it just happens. As I move away from the transition state, I’m glad to see myself become a woman with a transgender past rather than a transgender present.

Comments (6)
No. 1-6

I recently had top surgery. I love how I look there. I can see my transition coming to an end down the road. It is scary. I don't know how to socially be a woman seperate from my trans identity.


I assume by transgender, you are referring to transsexuals.

“I wouldn’t call myself proudly transgender”

How can you be proud for how you were born, you had no control in that, to have pride in that. You can however take pride in your abilities and success in treating your birth defect.

“I don’t believe I’ll ever stop being transgender”
“frankly, I’m tired of transitioning”
“the term ‘formerly transgender’”

You are never formally transgender, that is part of you and your history, you do however have your new life and gender after transition, transition is an action, it is a path from mtf/ftm, from the old to the new, it is not a state of being, it is not WHO you are it was never WHO you were, however you did survive it.


I feel this as well. In my day to day life, I just want to do my job and be like everyone else doing their job. I like that I can choose to be the transgender voice in a conversation, but I LOVE that it's a non-issue most of the time and people treat me like the off the wall, kinda crazy chick because really, THAT is what I am! I'm actually to the point of liking myself for who and what I am. The transgender label is just a piece of me, not the whole pie. ;)


Well said. I'm out and proud at a Pride event, or when I'm taking part in training, as I was yesterday. I'm working on just being me in other settings, like the Asperger Women's Group I facilitate, and in church activities.


This really spoke to me, ty.


I Think it is great you are moving forward. Transitioning is the path to where you belong and allows you to grow into the person you are now. I personally feel neither totally male or totally female. I am stuck in a constant state of flux. I enjoy both sides and am trying to not forgo parts I enjoy of either. I enjoy your writing and your photos. You always look so comfortable and confident.

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